Like most grand English traditions, the origins of the state funeral seem to be lost in the mists of the 19th century. Monarchs always had them, of course, but it seems only to be then that the great honour started being accorded to commoners. Nelson's and Wellington's stand out, both being occasions marked with great grief as well as dignity. It's to the credit of the age that Darwin, alone among great intellects, was accorded one.
In the past 50 years, only Churchill and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, had one – Diana Wales's was not, technically speaking, a state funeral, though conducted on very much the same scale. These were all almost entirely uncontroversial figures, who were fairly taken, at their deaths, to have united the nation in the same general sentiment. The next one might not be quite such a smooth ride. It's been said that preparations are now under way to give Lady Thatcher a state funeral.
Only a few months ago, I fell into conversation with a Welsh poet who told me, with gleeful bad taste, that she was going to hold a party to celebrate when Lady Thatcher died. Many of those who wouldn't go to such an extreme still think of the idea of rewarding Lady Thatcher and her legacy with such sober dignity as completely inappropriate. One blogger, commenting on the likely shortage of troops engaged in Afghan or Iraqi adventures to line the route, suggests that a phalanx of ex-miners might be a suitable substitute.
And there is something slightly comic about the idea of the liberation theologian of lower middle class morality being treated in so grand a way. Just as Diana was supported by representatives of her various charities rather than the military, perhaps Lady Thatcher could be seen on her way by her heirs and admirers. John Campbell, in his exceptional life, comments that we are all living nowadays in a Margaret Thatcher theme park. Let the roustabouts of the Thatcher funfair, the estate agents and financial advisers, advertising executives and insurance touts form the double-breasted platoon following her from Chester Square to St Paul's Cathedral.
Passions run high, nearly 18 years after her removal from office. Probably her legacy will always be coloured by memories both of the extraordinary national pain consequent on the reforms of her first years, and the violent divisions, eccentricity and acrimony of her last couple of years.
What must be said for her is that she was the first entirely successful prime minister since Attlee, in the limited sense that she came into government with a huge reforming programme, and by the end had achieved almost everything she hoped to achieve at the start. No-one else has ever managed to do that.
And if you look back at the world of 1979, it now seems unimaginable. Exchange controls; wage controls; closed shops; and the state, for reasons which had gone unexamined for years, owning airlines and car manufacturers. Thatcher had an almost Marxist sense of historical inevitability, and her success was such that she changed not just the world but the way we look at the world. To try to imagine the reach of the state in 1979 is, in a phrase of the time, to think the unthinkable.
The one thing she couldn't do, or didn't care about doing, was to change the way we would look at her. If the state funeral does materialise, it will acknowledge the woman behind an immense alteration in national life. But then, the boys at the back of the crowd with a brick to hand will be doing the very same thing.
Rebellion of a public schoolboy
Banksy has been rumbled. It is claimed that the long-anonymous creator of graffiti murals,, and favourite bad-boy artist of Hollywood collectors is an ex-public schoolboy called Robin Gunningham from Bristol.
It seems all too likely. The choir schools of England, such as Mr Gunningham's alma mater Bristol Cathedral School, have for years specialised in turning out rebels – Keith Richards sang at the Queen's coronation. And if you want your son to grow up writing on walls, give him the sort of name that stops being sweet with the onset of puberty. If you're going to have something to revolt against, being called Timothy, Christopher or Robin is as good as anything else.
* The case of Lilian Ladele, the public servant who refused to perform her duties towards members of the public she disapproved of, ought to be richly comic. As has been said, if registrars are allowed to refuse to perform civil partnerships, can we look forward to devout firemen declining to rescue unmarried mothers? The case, which was funded by the Christian Institute, has shown, however, how adept the most improbable causes have become in adopting the politically correct language of human rights. Miss Ladele's ludicrous views that secular contracts should be ruled by religious concerns are, the institute argued and the employment tribunal amazingly agreed, a matter to be protected by law. And she herself has, to a hilarious extent, acquired the approved status and language of individuals in contemporary society. They "said I was a homophobe," she wails. "I was stunned – it just wasn't true." God, I can't imagine why they would think that.Reuse content